Southern Africa these days is like a Chinese puzzle. Rhodesia is the first box, exposed on all sides, its lacquer chipped and lusterless. Lift the lid and there is Namibia, waiting its turn. Open up Namibia and South Africa comes into view. Prise the top off South Africa and, a non-Chinese surprise, two boxes lie side by side, one black and the other white. The black box is sealed tight but its shape has been distorted by a series of internal explosions and it no longer rests passively beside its neighbor. The white box also fails to open but that's because it's solid. On it there is an inscription: Afrikaner Nationalism. Therein the muscle and sinew, the visions and the nightmares of Africa's only white tribe are compounded.


If it is accepted that the central problem in the region is the immutability of South Africa's racial policies, around which all other problems ultimately turn, then the men who shape them deserve close attention. That a widespread challenge has arisen from the very people whose future is the main concern of South Africa's leaders, notably the new generation of blacks, only underscores the pivotal importance of the Afrikaners. The nature of white power in the southern part of the continent has undergone considerable change since the Lisbon coup in April 1974. The last of the metropolitans, the Portuguese, have gone. A new phase involving white settlers of relatively recent origin and untested nationalism in Rhodesia and Namibia has opened. The length of that phase is debatable; analysts talk in terms ranging from six months to five years. But the outcome-black governments, militant or moderate, stable or unstable-does not seem to be in doubt. By then the friendly white buffers may have been partially replaced by pliant black homelands but the chances of South Africa having to face what Rhodesia is confronted with today will have immeasurably increased.

South Africa's friends and foes alike acknowledge that the country is in a different category from the "colonial" countries of Rhodesia and Namibia. Black African nations defined that difference in a statement issued at Lusaka, Zambia, in April 1969. In what has since become a sort of African magna carta on freedom and equality in the white South, the Lusaka Manifesto referred to South Africa as an "independent sovereign state and a member of the United Nations." The recent riots in South Africa may lead the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to revise its attitude-strong opinions were expressed at the recent OAU summit meeting in Mauritius-but for the moment the Manifesto stands and implicitly recognizes the success of Afrikaner nationalism in its strange and unique act of creation at the foot of the African continent.

The Africans also accept that South Africa should be allowed time to work out its own destiny, though precisely what that should be has never been clearly defined by them any more than it has been by the white South Africans themselves. The Africans talk of "ending (or dismantling) apartheid" and privately mean a solution that leads to eventual majority rule in a unitary state. White South Africans talk of "separate development" and "equal freedoms" for all in South Africa and privately aim at maintaining political and economic control over at least four-fifths of the country.

White power in the Republic of South Africa is Afrikaner power. Settled in the country since the seventeenth century, the predominantly Dutch forebears of today's dominant white group were pushed into the interior by the English during the Napoleonic Wars and defeated by the latter in the Boer War in 1902. Since then, however, with their tight-knit ethnic strength and numerical predominance, the Afrikaners have gradually taken over political control and gathered increasing economic strength in the Republic. Their political arm, the National Party, has held the reins of government firmly since 1948.

The English-speaking community, roughly 40 percent of the white population,1 now counts for virtually nothing in South African politics. Of course, the English have influence, especially in commerce and industry, but they have no power nor have they any prospect of achieving it in the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for this. First, as a minority they cannot hope to oust the Afrikaners under the present electoral system, provided the latter remain united and as long as non-whites are excluded from parliament. Secondly, a process of realignment is going on among the two English opposition parties. The United Party (UP) is steadily losing ground to the more liberal Progressive-Reform Party (as the amalgamation of the Progressive and the breakaway left wing of the United Party is called) on the Left and to the ruling National Party on the Right. The old adage that the English talk Progressive, vote UP and privately thank God for the Nationalists has lost some of its validity. The increased gravity of South Africa's position has spurred a process of ideological polarization. Closet Nationalists and Progressives are tiptoeing cautiously out into the open as the days of wine and roses come to an end. (The same process has occurred in Rhodesia during the last decade, leaving the Center-ground sprinkled with the corpses of moderate politicians and good intentions.)

A third factor is the nature of the English electorate, which tends to be torpid, conservative and apolitical. The large influx of disillusioned white immigrants from other parts of Africa in recent years has strengthened the reactionary ingredient in the community. The idea that industrialists and businessmen, being practical and farseeing people, represent a political force for change seems to be as illusory in South Africa as it has been in Rhodesia although some individuals such as Harry Oppenheimer never give up urging meaningful reform. A confidential survey of 3,000 leading businessmen in South Africa last year showed that the group remains conservative, the greatest support for the status quo coming from those in the top echelon of management.2 Finally, the personality of Prime Minister John Vorster has done much to fragment traditional English political loyalties. His strength and pragmatism appeal to the English voter and opinion polls give him a steady 80-percent backing of the white electorate.

The historical enmity between Afrikaners and English in South Africa has diminished considerably in the last three decades. The consolidation of political power, the urbanization of the Afrikaner, and unprecedented material affluence have blunted the prickly spines of Afrikaner nationalism. After the founding of the Republic in 1961, former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd began to encourage the concept of a white South African nationalism in which the English were to be drawn closer but still held at arm's length from the sacred institutions-cultural, religious and political-of Afrikanerdom. Mr. Vorster has continued the policy with greater energy but not without strong criticism from the ethnic purists in the Afrikaner right wing. The group that has been most willing to reach out toward the English is the expanding body of young Afrikaner businessmen and technocrats. They find it relatively easy to identify with their white compatriots, whose affluence they now share and whose more relaxed life-style they admire and emulate.

But, underneath the Afrikaner skin, there still lies a wariness of the English-for their capacity to undermine the unity of the volk, for the assimilative power of their culture and, in times of crisis, for their suspect loyalty to the country. There are also the abrasive barbs of English opposition which never cease to hurt although they do no substantive damage. These come, with varying intensity, from three different directions: the English-language press; the English universities, especially Witwatersrand and Cape Town, and the students' union, NUSAS; and from the small but active Progressive-Reform Party in parliament.

An indication of Afrikaner mistrust is the government's refusal to capitalize on the undoubted support it has among the English electorate in order to accelerate even the limited domestic reforms it believes to be necessary. A recent by-election in Alberton showed the National Party paying an exaggerated amount of attention to the threat from the Afrikaner Right when it was clear that whatever was lost in that direction would be more than compensated by support from the English Left. The crucial determinant, of course, was the ethnic origin of those votes. In this context, Mr. Vorster is no different from any other leader of the volk; a single Afrikaner vote is still worth half a dozen English votes any day of the week.


The irony is that it was on the anvil of the English that the Afrikaners first forged their nationalist armor. Afrikaners retain a revolutionary image of themselves. Unlike the English, French or Portuguese in Africa, they turned their backs on their European origins. In search of land and solitude they swept north in successive migratory waves and clashed with black tribes pushing south. They were not innovators but a practical people who had a talent for modification. They fashioned a religion out of Calvinism and a language out of seventeenth-century Dutch. The Church and Afrikaans remain as pivotal to Afrikaner nationalism today as Judaism and Hebrew do to Zionism, although their racial ideologies are entirely different. They regard themselves in all seriousness as Africa's first freedom-fighters-against British imperialism-and although they lost the war they finally won the peace.

In all volk history there are distortions and myths but they do not necessarily weaken the faith of the believer; on the contrary, they often reinforce it. However, the power of what has been called the Afrikaners' "civil religion"3 has waned since its zenith in the 1930s and 1940s. And there is today no conclusive agreement on the identity of Afrikanerdom or the role it should play in modern Africa. There is, in fact, constant debate and much internal divisiveness. Yet the symbols and the institutions of a durable nationalism are there. The purely ethnic content of Afrikanerdom is certainly being eroded by the need to pull in the English in order to present a unified white front to the black threat. And although the inspirational view of Afrikaners as the Chosen People of an omniscient God has receded into obscurantist backwaters there is no lack of consensus, of moral righteousness, or of will, when it is a matter of who should guide the destiny of the 25 million people of South Africa.

Some of the problems in understanding Afrikaner nationalism arise from the fact that the Afrikaners are, like the Rhodesians, undoubtedly a minority group defending their privileged position against an impoverished and unrepresented majority. But, at the same time and quite unlike the Rhodesians, they have over a slow and painful process lasting 300 years evolved as a distinct ethnic group. The English of Rhodesia and South Africa and the Germans in Namibia still have a European home of sorts. The Afrikaners have none other than the empty land they occupied, and the settled land they bought or conquered. This factor adds a measure of determination, ruthlessness and perhaps, in extremis, flexibility to the Afrikaner psyche. Afrikanerdom is based on the reverse principle of European and American (or African) pluralism: that is, in order to survive, it has to exert total and exploitative power over rival nationalisms, if only to guide them to a compatible destiny. Despite its self-conscious act of amputation from Europe, Afrikaners still look with some anguish toward the West for a portion of their physical and psychological needs-weapons, investment, protection and approval. However, Mr. Vorster's government is doing its best to reduce this dependency. The détente policy with black Africa, the overtures to other middle-ranking internationally isolated powers-Israel, Iran, Taiwan-and the huge increases in defense and energy spending over the last few years all stem from this desire.


Afrikaner power in South Africa rests upon a number of traditional institutions all closely intermeshed at the top. It is hard to detect a breath let alone a wind of change in the taut rigging of the three Dutch Reformed churches, the FAK (Afrikaans Cultural Federation), the women's organizations (Afrikaner womanhood, the victim of Zulu massacres and British concentration camps, remains an important symbol of ethnic probity and purity), the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation, the white trade unions, and the powerful fraternal organization, the Broederbond (Band of Brothers). There is dissent, among some of the younger clergy, for example, and there is debate. But there is no sense of urgency, no swelling movement for reform, and although these organizations no longer play such a central role as they did when the Afrikaners were consolidating their power they still perform a dual function of filter and sounding board for Nationalist policy as it descends from the cabinet and party hierarchy.

The Broederbond, in particular, is important here. Founded in 1918 as a way of resisting British influence, it remains the watchdog of Afrikaner life. With a total membership of about 10,000, it is organized on a regional basis consisting of 400 cells or divisions and a central coordinating council which meets regularly in secret. Members are inducted and must be Afrikaner Protestants, belonging to one of the three Dutch Reformed churches, who send their children to Afrikaner schools and universities. While members can admit their own affiliation, they cannot reveal the identity of others. There are masonic overtones: special handshakes, secret words and signs for recognition. There is a chairman, an executive committee (Uitvoerende), a junior wing (Ruiterwag), and a central exchequer (the Christian de Wet Fund) which has over $1,000,000 in its coffers, and finances special activities. Prominent Afrikaners in all walks of life, including cabinet ministers and other leading politicians, belong to the Broederbond.

Some of the secrecy that formerly cloaked the organization was dissipated by a revelatory series of articles in the South African press in 1973 and 1974.4 However, its role of surveillance over Afrikaner morality and coordination of Afrikaner interests remains unimpaired. It also reflects the policy and personality struggles that periodically trouble Afrikanerdom. In 1969, when Albert Hertzog led his followers into the wilderness to form the right-wing Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP), Mr. Vorster himself conducted a purge and ejected them from the Band of Brothers. Another conflict occurred in 1974 when the then-chairman of the Broederbond, Dr. Andries Treurnicht, a conservative, was replaced by Professor Gerrit Viljoen, a moderate, again through the active intervention of the Prime Minister.

The power of the Broederbond is now widely thought to be less than it was; its high point was reached in the 1920s and 1930s when Afrikaner nationalist fervor was at its peak. But it would be wrong to relegate it, as some observers have, to the category of an "Afrikaner employment agency," a kind of British public school "old boy network" or American Eastern establishment-with the inference of declining or peripheral power. No major policy issue escapes its scrutiny; some originate from within its ranks. In 1971, the Broederbond worked out a secret policy for sport in South Africa, anticipating with remarkable accuracy the pressures that would be brought to bear against the government from abroad.5 Two other controversial issues, the future of the Coloureds and racial discrimination ("petty apartheid"), are constantly being chewed over by the Brothers, usually with inconclusive results.

The only area that receives less than microscopic attention is foreign diplomacy, which Mr. Vorster has, in recent years, made his own preserve. But even here, the Broederbond has sensitive antennae-especially in Rhodesia where there are 30,000 Afrikaners, many of them farmers in the embattled eastern frontier zone; and in Namibia which has a similar number of the volk scattered throughout that huge sparsely populated country. There is a network of cells in each place. In Rhodesia there is a special section called the GRA (Genoodskap van Rhodesiese Afrikaners) which contains five divisions and includes several important members of the ruling Rhodesian Front and at least one cabinet minister. The organization provides a convenient channel for all the supporters of right-wing orthodoxy, including some sympathizers of the HNP who escaped the purges in 1969 and 1970.

But although Rhodesia's future has caused some soul searching it has also demonstrated an interesting educative function of the organization. In February 1975, a major policy paper on the government's Rhodesian strategy was circulated by General Hendrik van den Bergh, the head of the Bureau for State Security (BOSS) and the co-architect of the détente policy with Mr. Vorster. The paper made it clear in uncompromising terms that South Africa had no alternative but to modify its traditional attitude toward Rhodesia and work with black Africa for a negotiated settlement. This followed an embarrassing visit to Salisbury by the Prime Minister's brother, then moderator of one of the Dutch Reformed churches and a man of conservative views, in which he had publicly declared that the whites in South Africa had no intention of abandoning Rhodesia. "We either win together or we hang separately," he said.


The institution with the greatest power, the National Party, is also in the doldrums, immobilized by the contrary and fitful breezes that spring from its verligte and verkrampte horizons. It is important to place this division strictly in the context of Afrikanerdom's self-interest. Verligte (enlightened) does not mean unadorned liberalism any more than verkrampte (narrow) signifies straightforward reaction, for the first implies openness within carefully defined limits and the second contains a streak of right-wing radicalism. The bone of contention between the two is not the shape of South Africa's future but the manner in which it is achieved and the pace at which it should proceed. The strategy is separate development, the creation of a series of independent black homelands to which all the blacks in the urban areas will belong. Many analysts, including some Afrikaners themselves, shrug off the verligte-verkrampte struggle as a charade, a tango where one partner first leads and then follows but the steps remain the same. However, it has produced an ideological fissure in Afrikanerdom which has recently shown signs of acquiring new dimensions.

The verligte vanguard is to be found in the Afrikaans press, the universities, the think tanks, and the quasi-government research institutes. There is a great rustle of activity: seminars, writing, talking, planning. The verligte intellectuals see themselves as loyal Afrikaner nationalists with a pragmatic bent, as ethnic fair-dealers, and as humanists who reject racial discrimination and domination. Their historical view is that the era of crude white baaskap (racial despotism) of the 1950s Nationalist leaders Daniel Malan and J. G. Strijdom gave way to the ideological apartheid of Dr. Verwoerd in the 1960s, and then softened into Mr. Vorster's separate development in the 1970s: eventually this will in turn lead to separate but equal freedom in the 1980s. Power-sharing and any form of political integration is as abhorred by them as it is by the verkramptes. Majority rule is out. But separate development, they stress, must be an innovative, dramatic policy imbued with a pioneering spirit and conducted with self-sacrifice.

They talk of a two-year breathing space while Rhodesia and Namibia attract the limelight. During that time, the government must seize the initiative and build up the tribal homelands, or Bantustans, which will eventually become independent black states; move decisively to eradicate racial discrimination; give the urban blacks a better economic and social deal; find a solution for the Coloureds who have no homeland; and launch a genuine dialogue with the non-white groups. The longer term is less precise. They envisage a patchwork of black and white states linked by federal or confederal structures in which the urban blacks-the biggest problem-will have a significant measure of self-government and perhaps even become small city-states linked at one level with their homeland governments and at another with the white cities from which they can never be wholly detached.

Verligtheid, as one Afrikaner analyst, F. van Zyl Slabbert, has pointed out, is not a movement. It is a collection of individuals with similar ideas on the future of South Africa, although the degree of their enlightenment often varies from issue to issue, e.g., a Cape Nationalist may be verlig on the Coloureds but not at all verlig on the problems of the urban blacks. Also the thrust of verligtheid within Afrikanerdom is not against the political primacy of the Afrikaner but against those who look backwards to cultural purity and ethnic chauvinism. It has little real muscle and has to rely on the intellectual caliber of its adherents and the influence they can exert in high places. Its strongest platform is the Afrikaans press where the current campaign for reform is being led by the respected editor of Die Transvaaler, Willem de Klerk, the man who coined the terms verligte and verkrampte in the mid-1960s. Public support has come from inside the cabinet (Piet Koornhof, Minister of Sport), the Afrikaner-run South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (SABRA), from a handful of white trades unionists and, more recently, from the chairman of the Broederbond, Gerrit Viljoen.

The verkrampte view is that change has gone far enough for the time being and that change in itself can be the thin end of the wedge: a social or economic concession to the blacks today will lead to a political one tomorrow. Separate development is fine but it must proceed cautiously; racial discrimination can be eased but only in areas where the process will not cause "friction"; and the cultural exclusivity of Afrikanerdom must be preserved at all costs. Regardless of what happens outside South Africa, the government must maintain firm control of the nature and the pace of change. The forces of verkramptheid are large and powerful. They number several seasoned generals: Connie Mulder, Minister of Information and Transvaal party leader; P. W. Botha, Minister of Defense; and M. C. Botha, Minister of Bantu Administration and Development. There is a solid cadre of officers and NCOs in the ranks of the civil service and police, and a broad phalanx of foot-soldiers among the blue-collar workers in the cities and the farmers on the dusty platteland.

There is also a high priest, Dr. Andries Treurnicht, a former Dutch Reformed pastor and now a deputy minister. He recently published a book called Credo of an Afrikaner setting out the orthodox conservative view of Afrikaner nationalism with its stress on Christian values and ethnic exclusivity. His inclusion in the government last year was something of a shock since he replaced a popular verligte in the important Ministry of Bantu Administration. Conventional wisdom has it that Mr. Vorster was boxing him in although it is agreed that this tactic can sometimes boomerang. Die Burger, the Cape Nationalist paper, refused to review his book-not so much for what he said but for his assumed motive in saying it, that is, playing up to the right-wing gallery. Few Afrikaners would deny, however, that Dr. Treurnicht articulates a deep and legitimate stream of feeling within Afrikanerdom and that he can muster formidable stopping power against any policies that run counter to the verkramptes' concept of their own self-interest.


The National Party is not an island. The men who run it and strive to maintain its cohesion have to look constantly to its flanks. On the Left the forces are more numerous than those on the other end of the spectrum, but most of their menace has been diminished by a combination of tactics: strong government for the English; delay on the Coloureds and Indians; inducements for the Bantustan leaders; and repression for black opponents and their handful of white supporters, many of whom, interestingly, are Afrikaners. Dr. Beyers Naude, director of the Christian Institute, a courageous and outspoken man, is a good example of the truly radical Afrikaner. He predicts majority rule will come within a decade and the sooner the whites accommodate themselves to the idea the better it will be for all the people of South Africa.

To the Right, the threat is miniscule in numerical terms, yet it is capable of provoking a deep neurosis in the leadership because its appeal strikes straight at the breast of the verkramptes and because it comes from within the ranks of Afrikanerdom itself. Albert Hertzog, Jaap Marais, and others in the HNP are regarded by many Afrikaners as a lunatic fringe, yet they undoubtedly exert an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. The party made no impact in the 1970 election, was almost annihilated four years later, and still has no seat in parliament. However, it has been increasing its vote in by-elections since 1974 and remains vocal and active.

Its message is twofold, historical and emotional. It points out that separate development has loosened up society and given black critics, like the Bantustan leaders, platforms they never had before; it is time to tighten the circle of ox-wagons, and the HNP with its crusading brand of ethnic nationalism is the party to do it. Albert Hertzog says, with logic, that if the government's policy is truly based on ethnicity, then the English, as well as the Coloureds and the Indians, should be given their own homelands. If not, then the blacks should be entitled to a single united Bantustan. The HNP also has considerable nuisance value, especially over issues such as the future of the whites in Rhodesia and Namibia. The line that it was criminal of the government to send South African boys to be killed fighting for Africans in distant Angola and not be allowed to defend their white kith and kin in neighboring Rhodesia is heady stuff on the stump. It is a theme that will grow louder as the situation deteriorates in Rhodesia and will find an echo in the hearts of many verkrampte Nationalists.

Presiding over these conflicting forces is the solid figure of Mr. John Vorster. The levers of Afrikaner power are firmly in his hands and behind him on the bridge stand a few trusted lieutenants. Understanding the process of decision-making in South Africa has been compared to Kremlinology. It is indeed a mysterious business in which the government often seems to move one step forward and then two back, in which ideology plays leapfrog with practical politics, and in which the self-interest of Afrikanerdom is the deciding but not always the most visible factor. The Prime Minister, now 60 years old, has spent a life steeped in politics. He is one of the generation of Afrikaner politicians who vividly remembers the days when the volk was divided, when the English were still the enemy. Black power is now the antagonist and Mr. Vorster knows a lot about that since he made his name as Dr. Verwoerd's law-and-order man at the Ministry of Justice in the early 1960s. But he can never forget that he was at the helm when Afrikanerdom split in 1969 and that his hold on the right wing of his people will only be secure as long as he can satisfy their conservative instincts and aspirations.

"What the HNP says in public a third of the Nationalists think in private," an Afrikaner political correspondent told me recently in South Africa, and most people I bounced it off on agreed that it represented a fair assessment. Fear of the Right is a constant in white politics in Southern Africa-and with good reason. In Rhodesia, the movement of power to the right has become an iron law. Dr. Hertzog and HNP leaders point to precedents in Afrikaner history for successful assaults on the citadel from the same direction and say they are prepared to wait: historical inevitability is on their side.

Mr. Vorster himself entered Nationalist politics from the Right and he knows only too well that the ammunition for such an attack is piling up: concessions linked to black violence, albeit minimal, such as scrapping Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools or providing electricity to Soweto residents after the June riots; unresolved conflict with Pretoria's favorite homelands' son, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, over the citizenship issue-and perhaps a delay in the Transkei's independence scheduled for October 26; the Coloureds' stubborn refusal to accept the government's halfway house for them; and, most dangerous of all, Mr. Vorster's understandable reluctance to become physically involved in Rhodesia. In an interview earlier this year he asked himself the rhetorical question, "What would I do if a hundred Afrikaners were killed in a week in Rhodesia?" He did not-or could not-provide an answer.


Where does Mr. Vorster himself stand in Afrikanerdom? He seems to have two basic positions. In foreign affairs he is with the verligtes, a supreme realist ready to take risks and meet the changing world face-to-face. His détente policy in Africa, his rationale for the Angolan intervention (fighting for his African allies in order to achieve an African solution, an Angolan government of national unity), the stern advice to Ian Smith to get on with majority rule, the new flexibility on Namibia in which he has accepted that the detested South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) could have a role-all these developments attest to Mr. Vorster's adaptability and all have been opposed at varying levels of intensity by the right-wingers.

In domestic affairs, however, his stance is enigmatic and hard to define. He is not verkrampte but neither is he verligte. On internal change he moves slowly, elliptically, with great caution. He endorsed the famous statement by his Ambassador at the United Nations in 1974-South Africa does not condone discrimination on the basis of color-but he would also agree with Connie Mulder who said on the removal of discrimination, "You can't have a blueprint, you've got to play it by ear." South African domestic policy sometimes appears to evolve by a process of osmosis rather in the manner in which Tory party leaders used to be chosen in Britain: something finally emerges. Apartheid ideologues will be satisfied with the framing of a law, and separate development pragmatists will be content with its less than rigorous implementation. Playing both ends off against the middle is a minor South African art form; thus the inevitable can be satisfactorily disguised, as in the steady erosion of job reservation and the upward mobility of black labor.

The key to Mr. Vorster is that he is an authoritarian who believes first and foremost in control and then in applying the power at his hand in subtle shifts this way and that according to the balance of pressures. He represents a return to a more traditional kind of Afrikaner leader after the sternly ideological Dr. Verwoerd.6 If one had to tie a label on him in this context, I would favor the tag recently used to describe the present chairman of the Broederbond: "a pragmatic conservative." Mr. Vorster strives for consensus but it is a cautious business and if there is strong disagreement or risk of division he will shelve the issue or employ delaying tactics. This preserves a balance in the cabinet between men who represent the various political and ideological differences within Afrikanerdom: Piet Koornhof, the verligte; Connie Mulder, the hard-headed Transvaal party chief; P. W. Botha, the Defense "hawk"; and M. C. Botha of Bantu Affairs, Dr. Verwoerd's loyal disciple. But the style also appeals to the Prime Minister's own character and to those close to him, such as General Van den Bergh of BOSS, Professor Viljoen, the Broederbond chairman, and Dr. Muller, the durable Foreign Minister.

But where is he going? The short answer is nowhere very fast and in the meantime his government is accumulating more power. Recent legislation illustrates the steady flow of power to the Executive. The Defense Act, obliging South African soldiers to fight anywhere in the world; the Parliamentary Internal Security Commission (PISCOM), a McCarthyite body set up to investigate suspect individuals and organizations; the Separate Amenities Act which takes certain powers away from municipal authorities and gives them to the government; the Squatters Act ordering landlords and local authorities to demolish squatters' homes and removing the occupant's right to appeal to the courts; and the "SS" Bill7 which increases the already draconian powers of the government in the field of individual liberties.

Linked with the centralization of power is Mr. Vorster's determination to maintain Afrikaner unity. His oft-quoted saying that a responsible leader should never move out of sight or earshot of his people is not mere rhetoric. Afrikanerdom is not-and never was-a natural monolith. The mortar that binds it together is the National Party's hold on political power and the strength of its institutions, which reinforce each other. So far the fear of losing political control and the many advantages it brings has kept the centrifugal tendencies within Afrikanerdom in check. Despite the appeal of Dr. Hertzog and the HNP, the serried ranks of verkramptheid-the farmers, the white urban workers, the cultural organizations and the churches-have no cause to be discontented with Mr. Vorster's government at the moment. In addition, many of the divisive issues (rivalry between Cape and Transvaal Provinces, trades unionist versus platteland farmer, Bantu Department ideologue against verligte intellectual) often cut across each other and make a clear rift less likely. If, however, one issue became dominant and swamped all the others, then the party and the institutions could be threatened. This is something Mr. Vorster will be at pains to avoid.

In a few areas he has pushed cautiously forward. A considerable amount of money and effort is being put into the Bantustans, though not as much as the verligtes would like. He responded quickly and positively to the challenge presented by the Portuguese collapse in Africa. He has gone some way to ease discrimination. Helen Suzman of the Progressive-Reform Party accurately summed up what these moves meant: "to the outside world-nothing at all; to the blacks in South Africa-very little; to the whites-a hell of a lot!"8 He has not, so far, responded to calls for a systematic plan to end racial discrimination. A cabinet committee has been sitting for two years overseeing the problem but its work or views are not published. The Prime Minister has never made a comprehensive statement on racial policy.

In this glacially slow and uncertain process, optimists point to two possible sources of hope for positive change: in the rising, affluent and urbanized Afrikaner middle class which is drifting away from the churches and cultural institutions and is not interested in the sacred symbols of Afrikanerdom; and in the energetic verligtes and their campaign for reform. There are probably other factors, as yet unquantifiable, like the effect of television, some changes in education (young Afrikaners are now taught to respect the "Bantu" and his ethnic identity), increasing possibilities of travel abroad, a growing sexual permissiveness, and the infiltration of international fashion and life-styles helped by the astonishing affluence which South African whites now enjoy.

But the power of these factors is limited, and the weight of the verligte is behind decent social and economic reform, not radical political change. Moreover, they are reluctant to look beyond the immediate future. Ask a verligte for his views in general and he'll give them freely. Ask him for his blueprint and he'll smile and say it's too early. If the plan were put on the table now, the verkramptes would pounce on its most vulnerable parts and thus put paid to the whole. Federalism, the logical conclusion of the Bantustan policy and a favorite theme in verligte projections, is a touchy subject with the government because it has long been a plank of the opposition United Party's constitutional platform.


For the longer view the government invariably refers the inquirer to the "unfolding of the plan," meaning the steady evolution of the homelands policy. The assumption is that it is like a huge spool of tape, with no breaks or surprises, and racial harmony at the other end. The strategy may be modified from time to time and the speed at which it is implemented may vary. But nothing will alter its main thrust because it is the only policy that the Afrikaners fundamentally agree on.

There are many imponderables for the government. They include the criticism leveled by the untouchable Bantustan leaders, of whom Chief Gatsha Buthelezi is the most feared, the hydra-headed young black organizations such as the South African Student Organization (SASO) and the Black People's Convention (BPC), the awkward Coloured leaders, the remorseless way in which more, not fewer, Africans are being sucked into the white areas, and, perhaps most important of all, the growing politicization of those people as they live and work cheek-by-jowl with the whites.

The Soweto riots in June and the mass protests which have followed showed that black frustration can erupt on a massive scale and new disturbances, better organized and more politically overt, have taken place since. The impetus came from the students but their feelings mirrored many of the grievances of their parents, the underprivileged labor force that keeps South Africa going. Some black areas were not seriously affected; many workers continued working; elements of criminality, anarchy and personal feuding were undoubtedly present. Nevertheless there was no mistaking the political overtones of the riots. Young urban blacks, in contrast to their parents who have bowed before the power of the Afrikaner state, decided to strike a blow for their own cause. They have not accepted apartheid. In the townships their targets were government buildings-offices, schools, clinics, liquor stores-while in the rural areas the black "separately developed" universities erupted and the legislative assembly in Bophutatswana, the only homeland apart from Transkei to opt for independence, was burned down. They had been aroused by the exploits of FRELIMO in Mozambique, the MPLA in Angola and, more recently, the expanding guerrilla war in Rhodesia; they have no memory of Sharpeville and the repression that followed. The effect of the violence on the whites has been to strengthen the undercurrent of unease set in motion by the Angolan intervention, a trend exacerbated by the worst economic recession since the 1930s. The government has talked of a "new deal" for the black townships and may continue to make small administrative and economic concessions but that will probably be the limit. What it really fears-a combination of internal revolt and external attack-is not yet in sight.

Meanwhile, the process of polarization in white politics which was already under way-the Left and Right hardening and the majority of Afrikaners and English drawing together in the Center-will continue. A backlash will be resisted by the government but the verkramptes will be in no mood to make more than marginal concessions to the blacks. As Rhodesia has shown, a powerful ruling minority does not voluntarily move in the direction of sharing either economic privileges or political control. Afrikaner philosophy is somewhat different in that it has made a commitment to performing a unique act of self-surgery by slicing off small portions of its own flesh. But John Vorster is subject to the same pressures that work on Ian Smith, those that arise from a fearful, cosseted, myopic and widely prejudiced electorate.

As long as Mr. Vorster is Prime Minister one can expect more verligtheid abroad and more conservative pragmatism at home. White Rhodesia is at last beginning to see how insecure and isolated it has become. White, particularly Afrikaner, South Africa still feels enormously strong and relatively secure. The country is, nevertheless, passing through difficult times. The current recession is expected to continue until at least mid-1977; the price of gold, a commodity which accounts for roughly 40 percent of South Africa's foreign exchange, has plummeted; and while there has been no flight of capital as there was after the Sharpeville shootings in 1960, medium- and long-term investment on which the country depends for growth is slowing down. The result is economic and fiscal retrenchment. There will be less money than ever to remedy the social grievances of the blacks. Defense spending, up 40 percent this year, will have top priority and will probably increase. Unemployment among Africans has been growing rapidly and is expected to rise to about two million at the end of this year.9 The whites will also feel the pinch, making them less responsive to pressures for change, especially those that entail economic sacrifice.

None of these difficulties will deflect the government from the path of separate development. However, in order to implement it the leader of the volk may need still more power. A change in the constitution, with an executive presidency replacing the present Westminster model, is not ruled out at some future date. Under the present system members of the government must also be members of parliament. An American-style constitution-with, presumably, Mr. Vorster as president-would enable the government to invite leaders of non-white groups, especially the Coloureds, to join the cabinet and yet still deprive them of representation in the all-white political process. Some people in South Africa, looking even further ahead, talk of the inevitability of an Afrikaner dictatorship, ideally an enlightened one, in order to overcome white conservatism on the Right and black radicalism on the Left. There is a strong attachment to the British parliamentary institutions and South Africa cherishes what it regards as a democratic system of government, but part of the Afrikaners' pragmatism consists of being able to devise radical solutions to meet radical situations. The steady erosion of the rule of law during the 1960s shows how single-minded and ruthless the Afrikaner state can be when threatened. Indeed, if a one-party state with an irremovable president at its head were introduced it would be a more accurate expression of the South African polity than the present system, since the majority of the population already have no say in their own government.

To those who assert that it is not too late to scrap separate development and switch tracks to majority rule, Afrikanerdom turns a granite face. To those who say it won't work anyway the Nationalists say it will, it must, there is no other way. Today, many Afrikaners feel smug about Rhodesian white supremacists who compared their own racial policies favorably to apartheid. Mr. Smith is now about to reap the logic of his integrated political system-majority rule. Separate development also has a logical conclusion which many Afrikaners shy away from. That, of course, is partition, which implies a reasonably equitable division of the land and wealth of the country. "We've seen plenty of the separation," says Chief Buthelezi, "but what about the equality and the freedom?"

If Afrikaners are sincere about their belief in ethnicity and a fair deal for all the peoples of South Africa then they must demonstrate their sincerity by showing the world more of that tantalizing spool of tape. How much land and resources will be allotted to the Africans? (Current consolidation plans do not materially alter the grossly inequitable 13 percent.) Are the Coloureds and Indians to remain in limbo? What about the eight million urban blacks who demonstrably do not want either to go "back" to the homelands or to express themselves politically there? Separate-but-equal freedoms suggest dialogue, discussion, trade-offs, compromise. Chief Kaiser Matanzima of the Transkei undoubtedly represents a black constituency. But what about Nelson Mandela in prison on Robben Island, Robert Sobukwe restricted to Kimberley, and the new generation of militants in the townships? Mr. Vorster helped secure the release of nationalists in Rhodesia so that they could discuss a common future with Mr. Smith. Does he not believe that the men he holds behind bars and the leaders in the cities and the homelands-the old and the new nationalists of black South Africa-have a legitimate role to play in the destiny of their country?

The Afrikaners can no longer trek; there is nowhere to trek to. They have to dominate, deal, or die. So far they have chosen the first course. Although many South Africans-Afrikaners, English, Coloureds and Africans-are now urging the government to pursue the second, Afrikanerdom does not yet feel sufficiently threatened. If and when it is, the people who lead may react in a surprisingly sensible and practical way, as their forebears did in similar circumstances, jettisoning dogma and working for compromise. But that time has not yet come.


1 The effective electoral power of the English is probably less when the large number of English-speaking residents who have not taken out South African citizenship is considered. Two years ago, Mr. Piet Koornhof, Minister of Sport and Immigration, said that only 42,000 immigrants out of a total of 400,000 had become citizens since 1961 (Seek, an Anglican journal, July 1974.).

2 This survey was carried out by Anglo-American, the giant mining conglomerate, which conducts a similar exercise every five years.

3 The phrase is T. Dunbar Moodie's, used in his book, The Rise of Afrikanerdom, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

4 By Hennie Serfontein, political correspondent of the Johannesburg Sunday Times.

5 John Seller, "South African Response to External Pressures," Journal of Modern African Studies, September 1975, p. 458.

6 Verwoerd was not technically an Afrikaner at all since he was born in Holland.

7 Because of the sinister connotations of its initials, the title of this measure was changed from Promotion of State Security Act to Promotion of Internal Security Act. The South African government is often infelicitous in its choice of titles which abbreviate badly, e.g., BOSS, BAD (Bantu Administration and Development), PISCOM, etc.

8 In an interview with me in Cape Town in April 1976. Two things struck me at once on returning to South Africa after an absence of a decade: Africans were treated more politely by the whites, and the economic gulf between them was wider than ever.

9 Black unemployment is currently running at 20 percent, compared to .2 percent for whites.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • John de St. Jorre, a former Africa correspondent of the London Observer, is a Senior Associate of the International Fact-Finding Center, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, New York. This article is part of a larger study on Southern Africa for the Center. He is the author of The Brothers' War: Biafra and Nigeria and other works.
  • More By John de St. Jorre